Hitler’s Lie: Arbeit Macht Frei

Hitler came to power and had his strongest support in the city of Munich. Munich was the birthplace of Nazism. It was the Haupstadt der Bewegung – The city of the movement.

On Tuesday I boarded bus with my friends to Dachau.  To visit a concentration camp from WWII which was opened by Hitler in 1933 – a place where some of the most horrifying crimes in the history of mankind were committed.

32,000 people were killed/died in Dachau.

Lots of people have asked me: ‘why?’ as in – why on earth would you put yourself through such a thing?  But the answer is easy – I’m here in Germany for a year and I want to understand and see as much of the place that I can.  I want to understand the culture – and this means understanding the history. The way I see it is that Holocaust isn’t just a crime committed by Germans – it was a crime committed by humans.  And a sort of weird, morbid curiousity fills me –  a need to try and understand how we as humans could have this capacity to be so evil.  And how we can learn from history to make sure that we are never this evil again.  We have no choice but to confront it.

As we sat on the bus to Dachau concentration camp I couldn’t help but feel strange.  In 1933-1945 there would have also been buses full of people heading to Dachau. The only difference being that you would not have willingly chosen to go on one of those buses.

Our bus was spacious and comfortable and full of chatter.  A world away from what the buses would have been like 80 years ago.  And I think it was at this point that I came to the realisation that I never would be able to place myself in their shoes and relate to how they felt.

This realisation continued throughout the tour around Dachau.  The birds chirped and the sun shone – Tuesday was a beautiful day of 25 degrees.  This made me uncomfortable – finding beauty in the trees and the flowers of such a tragic place.

I have read and studied so much about the Holocaust.  However I thought that actually going to the place and being there meant that I would be able to empathise with the people who were kept in Dachau. To put myself in their place and feel a little of how they felt. But even standing where they would have stood in the gas chambers equipped with fake shower heads… or when we were stood in the spot where starving prisoners were counted every day, I instead felt no human connection – I felt a huge distance between myself and them. I will never be able to empathise with the prisoners in concentration camps.  Never be able to feel what they felt.  And this was the most hurtful part of the day.

We came across a memorial which pleaded ‘Nie Wieder’ (Never Again).  Never again in Germany, maybe.  But the awful, deflating truth is that this has happened many times and continues on in the world – one notable example being North Korea.

Dachau sees thousands and thousands of visitors annually. Germans, Brits and Jews walked around together in these tours together – witnesses this sobering and harrowing place all together. All together we paid our respects to the massive and incomprehensible loss that happened in Dachau.  And I would encourage anyone to do the same – so that we can try and make sure that such atrocities are not repeated.

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4 thoughts on “Hitler’s Lie: Arbeit Macht Frei

  1. You’re right – it is important to confront these horrible pasts. And it should make us uncomfortable, because that means we’re affected by the experience. Your explanation of not being able to emphasize is interesting, and I had the same experience visiting similar places, like the genocide museum in Rwanda. But recognizing that your feelings don’t even come close to what the people who were imprisoned and often killed felt is also a way for us to realize the sheer horror of what occurred, in that it is barely even possible to comprehend it.

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  2. I hope one day to visit too, Jennifer. As you know, you and I stayed relatively close to Dachau in the first weekend we were there, before I left you to settle in. I will never forget going for a walk along the quiet cycle/footpath beside the railway line and coming across a direction sign which on one arm pointed somewhere anonymous; and on the other had the name ‘Dachau’ in white lettering. And since then I have been thinking about the age-old question of why people could take part in such inhuman acts. I don’t have an answer; but last week’s New Scientist magazine has a fascinating article that deals with the issue: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329860.800-the-banality-of-evil-people-arent-so-easily-led.html#.VB3m6PldWWw.

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